News / Africa

Goma Airport Still Closed

People displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo wait to receive aid food in Mugunga IDP camp outside of Goma, November 24, 2012.People displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo wait to receive aid food in Mugunga IDP camp outside of Goma, November 24, 2012.
x
People displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo wait to receive aid food in Mugunga IDP camp outside of Goma, November 24, 2012.
People displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo wait to receive aid food in Mugunga IDP camp outside of Goma, November 24, 2012.
Nick Long
Aid agencies are calling for a key airport in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo to be reopened as soon as possible.  The airport at Goma was shut down by fighting two weeks ago but a United Nations official suggests it could now be reopened if the security arrangements are kept simple.  
 
Having no working airport would be serious for any city of nearly a million people.  For a city with 140,000 displaced people living around it and ongoing military activity the closure could cost lives if vital supplies cannot be flown in quickly.

Most aid to Goma comes by road and the borders are still open, but some medical and food supplies have to come by air.  United Nations agencies have appealed to the M23 rebels controlling Goma to let aid flights land there.

"We have had formal discussions with M23 to ask them to let the airport open," explained Barbara Shenstone, who heads the DRC office of OCHA, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  "The airport is important for vital medical supplies, and to be able to bring people in and out."

Shenstone told VOA that the M23 said it was willing to open the airport and was in discussions with the U.N. stabilization mission MONUSCO over how this would work.  MONUSCO still has troops at the airport, who blocked M23's attempts to capture it.

But talks at the regional level in Uganda's capital appear to be causing delays.  A regional proposal is on the table to station a mixed force at Goma airport consisting of contingents from M23, the Congolese army and a neutral country.

"I think it's got slightly complicated by the agreement that was reached in Kampala where there were different arrangements proposed for the airport and the possibility of a small international force.  That has kind of stalled the opening of the airport," she said.

Aid workers restarted food distributions to displaced people in and around Goma this week.  Some 81,000 out of an estimated 140,000 displaced people in the area received food rations for three days, and regular blanket distributions are planned.

The U.N. humanitarian office says the rations are tailored to immediate needs, as many people may soon go home to their villages, where harvesting should now be taking place.  

In the past, rebel movements in Congo's North Kivu province have ordered displaced people to go home.  Shenstone said the U.N. would advise against any such policy.

"It's true that the M23 generally doesn't think that camps are a good idea, and they may have ideas about this.  But as the humanitarian community we would discourage them from any attempt to forcibly move people.  It's not right.  You could be forcing people into further distress or danger.  The whole idea of forcible returns is just a very bad one," she said.

Aid workers have been under pressure in Congo.  After the fall of Goma, international aid workers were targeted by protesters and rioters in several cities.  In one city, Bunia, expatriates were chased out of their houses, had their homes looted and their cars wrecked.  

But the head of OCHA in DRC says these outbreaks of violence should be put in perspective.

"Humanitarians in eastern Congo are often in danger.  In North Kivu in the last six months there have been 162 incidents recorded where non-governmental organizations [NGOs] were attacked on the road or had their goods stolen.  Has there been an upsurge of this in the last two weeks?  No.  The real immediate danger NGOs face is being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, the same danger the population faces," said Shenstone.

The humanitarian appeal for DRC for 2012 was for $791 million and with the year nearly over that appeal is only 60 percent funded. Shenstone told VOA that the country is in a state of chronic crisis but she said it doesn't have the same weight with donors as other conflagrations such as Syria or Afghanistan, or the same strategic interest.

While a truce appears to be holding for the moment, the OCHA head of office in Congo predicts that violence will continue to flare up unless the country's deep, underlying problems are addressed.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs